Saturday 24 September 2016

Housing crisis calls for joined-up policymaking

Published 15/06/2016 | 02:30

'There are too few homes now for the financially strong and none for the weak'
'There are too few homes now for the financially strong and none for the weak'

House price inflation doubled in the first half of this year in the busiest market for homes, Dublin. It might be that the situation would be even more out of control without the Central Bank mortgage rules, though it is doubtful.

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The fundamental issue is that there are too few homes in the capital for the people living there. That is increasingly true across much of the rest of the country.

Evidence from the construction sector is that builders parked desperately needed housing projects when the Central Bank plans were announced. That was a rational response, but could hardly have happened at a worse time for our society and economy. As the Simon Community's Sam McGuinness summed it up, there are too few homes now for the financially strong and none for the weak.

At one end of the market, it means we'll struggle to attract new business into the country - employers won't come to locations where workers need ever higher wages just to put a roof over their heads. At the other end we have a homelessness crisis on a scale not seen since we gained our independence. Whole families now face the horror of not knowing each morning where they will sleep that night.

The Irish property market is dysfunctional - from one end to the other. Sensible lending standards should be part of the solution - but the decision to implement a one-size-fits-all solution across the market in one go, without any reference to the need to build homes, was a grave mistake.

The best lesson the Central Bank could have learned from the crash was not that debt is risky - of course it can be - but that the bank needs to work hand in hand with the rest of the public administration and others if it wants to help formulate really durable policies.

Signs so far suggest it's a lesson unlearned.

We must heed warnings on overweight mothers

The stark warning from the National Maternity Hospital at Holles Street in Dublin about risks to expectant mothers deserve to be heeded. The hospital is grappling with the challenges posed by an ageing and increasingly overweight cohort of mothers. It says one-third of expectant mothers are overweight and one in eight is obese, raising the medical risks for themselves and their unborn baby.

The Master of the hospital, Dr Rhona Mahony, revealed the scale of the problem of overweight-mothers-to-be, warning they have "all the attendant medical risk, including miscarriage, congenital malformation, gestational diabetes".

The rise in the age of expectant mothers also poses a clinical challenge for the hospital.

At the same time, one of the country's main maternity hospitals continues to operate in a patently out-of-date building, which is not equipped to keep up with the pace of developments in maternity care or the modern needs of patients and their families. As Dr Mahony says: "It is clear that the volume and complexity of our caseload continues to increase, creating continued challenges as we continue to operate with inadequate resources and grave infrastructural challenges."

The highest standards of care are demanded and provided at the hospital, so it is extremely unreasonable to ask the staff to operate in an archaic facility.

The provision of a new, purpose-built building must be a priority for the new Minister for Health Simon Harris.

Irish Independent

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